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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Comedy of Matrimonies

"City of Millionaires" at the Lenkom is one of those shows capable of keeping up my respect for old-fashioned traditional theater. It is packed to the brim with straightforward direction; fine, full-bodied acting and a gorgeous, detailed set. All of that is wrapped around a meaty, well-constructed play that never takes itself too seriously and never forgets to poke us with a bit of wisdom.

The play is actually Eduardo De Filippo's "Filumena Marturano" and is not to be confused with the writer's earlier play "Napoli Milionaria!" which recently opened at the Satire Theater under the title of "Naples - City of Millionaires." Film buffs will recognize that "Filumena" was the basis for the Vittorio De Sica comedy "Marriage Italian Style."

I'm not certain why director Roman Samgin bothered to tinker with the title. Maybe it's just that Moscow quirk by which every self-respecting director considers it imperative to replace the author's title with something - anything - else. Or, and this is more likely, it was to appeal better to the Lenkom's usual clientele, which is deemed to consist of Moscow's wealthy elite.

Call it what you will, it's still an enjoyable show.

The two key reasons for this success are Inna Churikova and Armen Dzhigarkhanyan. These are two of Russia's finest actors and they work together as if they have been a lifelong team.

In fact, both actors gain a great deal from each other. Churikova seems to assimilate some of Dzhigarkhanyan's toughness, which suits her beautifully. And Dzhigarkhanyan, who is the epitome of the rough-cut male specimen, at times takes on elements of Churikova's velvety manner. Both remain true to their own styles, but their alliance encouraged each to add new shades to their on-stage personalities.

Churikova is Filumena, a prostitute who has been the common-law wife of Domenico Soliano (Dzhigarkhanyan) for 25 years. He is on the verge of marrying the pretty young Diana (Maria Mironova), so Filumena acts quickly - she pretends to be on her deathbed and gets Domenico to marry her before she "dies." The play commences shortly after Domenico realizes he has been suckered.

Churikova, draped in a flowing clay-colored nightshirt and cap (designed by Viktoria Sevryukova), is marvelous in this opening scene. She is ice to Dzhigarkhanyan's fire, composure to his fury, dignity to his vulgarity. She has won her battle and must now maintain her poise in order to win the war - for that is what Domenico is prepared to declare.

Dzhigarkhanyan plays a man who thought he had seen it all, but suddenly realizes the surprises have just begun. That discovery mobilizes him and brings back the virility and purpose of his youth. He has the marriage with Filumena annulled, only barely hesitating when he learns that Filumena has been raising three sons, one his, in secret.

But as his new wedding day arrives, Domenico is haunted by the desire to know which of the boys is his - something Filumena shrewdly refuses to divulge. In his eagerness to get to the bottom of the riddle, he falls in love with all three. This deflates his passion for his young bride and sends him back into the arms of Filumena.

De Filippo's play is a funny and touching look at the complex emotional ties that bind us in relationships. It is, perhaps, a satire of feminine wiles and masculine pride, but it a celebration as well - of how differing natures can achieve harmony, if only for a moment.

This latter quality is where Samgin placed his emphasis as director. Without heavy-handedness, he emphasizes Filumena's repeated declarations of "children are children," thereby elevating the notions of tolerance and understanding to the status of a leitmotif. His simple finale - the family, servants and the jilted fianc?e all sit together to eat a peaceful meal - is another sign of this show's discreet manner of appealing to our conscience without hitting us over the head with morals.

The spectacular set by Oleg Sheintsis is a delight for the eyes. In several planes and extraordinary detail, it depicts an urban Italian home - living room, kitchen, courtyard and street beyond. It is beautifully lit (the program credits no lighting director) with sunlight falling on the neighboring houses, shadows in the courtyard and various hues of artificial light indoors.

Also impressive is Sergei Stepanchenko as Domenico's unflappable secretary, Alfred. He and the house servants Rosalia (Margarita Lifanova) and Lucia (Natalia Shchukina) know all the secrets in this topsy-turvy home and they are always there to keep things moving if Domenico loses his concentration.

Still, as strong as the supporting cast is, "City of Millionaires" remains a showcase for Churikova and Dzhigarkhanyan. With these two masters at work, all we have to do is sit back and enjoy.

"City of Millionaires" (Gorod Millionerov) plays at 7 p.m. April 9, 10, 22, 23 and 30 at the Lenkom Theater, located at 6 Ulitsa Malaya Dmitrovka. Metro Pushkinskaya. Te. 299-0708. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.